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HTML Color Swatches in Black [Girl] by Ariana Benson

for Oluwatoyin Salau, for Breonna Taylor, for Cyntoia Brown, for Tameka Drummer, for Anjanette Young, for all of us whose names I wish had first floated from my lips on wings of joy, instead of…



…girl, too umber for proper / amber alert.
Black / girl, skipped right past “missing” into
/ “Lost: B L A C K girl”. nobody / even noticed
you were gone, Black / girl, when your body
was still / there for things men / WANTED:
Black girl. something / in your milk ain’t
clean enough / for store cartons / Black girl.
or maybe / they look at you and find / a
woman. did you ever really get / to be a girl,
Black girl?

#757271 or


…girl / silver bit in a palmful of pennies / Black girl,
stuck / into the thinnest slots and slid / down the
darkest chutes. Black girl / they cash in your chips /
for something sickly / sweet and wrapped in white /
never black. girl / flicked into spouted marble
mouths / after being wished upon like a faded / star
returning to black / girl with the gilded / quicksilver
skin / how do you still shimmer / underwater? how
does your light escape / the drowning black,    girl?

#3C3837 or


…girl, blowing grams / of bottled breath between the weeds
/ Black girl, find peace / in letting rivers’ / clear fade across
trees’ green / Black girl, after twenty years of refusing / let
your colors leak / into each other. Black / girl I swear:
nobody here is counting / how many times you blink / Black
girl shaking smoke out the dark / cloud haloing your mind /
Black girl, the white sea / in your eyes, it never was / pristine.
Black girl—it’s fine / to let a little bit / of red be seen / just
inhale deep and forget / what it all means, Black girl—who
ever / said you had to be anything / but free?

#3B3938 or


…girl: one piece / of pie don’t have to be enough / Black girl.
satisfaction ain’t a synonym / for greed, Black girl. asking for
seconds / don’t make you a thief. Black girl / who always keeps a
mine / under your tongue, though they still try / to make you spit /
Black girl, I beg you detonate / when they step on / your best thing /
let the splinters / they stripped from your spine / tear out their teeth.
Black girl / how long before / they realized your shrapnel / made
mouths leak? hear me / Black girl: gulp your joy / before it turns into
white steam / Black girl, ain’t it true that / all Sula Peace wanted was
to be / loved by someone like her—another / Black girl?

Ariana Benson (she/they) is proudly from Chesapeake, Virginia. She received the 2021 Graybeal-Gowen prize and was a finalist for the 2020 Auburn Witness Poetry Prize and the 2021 Pink Poetry Prize. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in Obsidian, West Branch, Shenandoah, Great River Review, ANOMALY, Lunch Ticket, Southern Humanities Review and Auburn Avenue, where she serves as Nonfiction Editor, among others. Ariana’s work often interrogates language, visual art, environmental concerns, and the connection between African Diasporic peoples and the natural landscape. Through her writing, she strives to fashion vignettes of Blackness that speak to its infinite depth and richness. Ariana enjoys watching sports, reading the entire plots of anime series on Wiki, and playing easy, relaxing video games (think Animal Crossing and Spiritfarer).

The featured image is Untitled [three women learning to be nurses at the Manual Training and Industrial School for Colored Youth in Bordentown, New Jersey] by Lewis Wickes Hine (ca. 1935), selected and manipulated specifically for Ariana’s poem by our Art Director, Meg Sykes.